Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Lives of Others

The Lives of Others is so powerful! It is a really beautiful, haunting thriller that takes place in East Germany several years before the wall came down. It is about a Stasi agent who is spying on a writer and becomes empathic towards the writer and his lover. The Stasi agent is a very lonely uptight character, and watching him listen in on the lives of the artists and writers is so moving, like in The Conversation. It becomes incredibly tense and suspenseful as the Stasi agent begins to cover up his subject's dissident activity and thus silently conspires with him. The ending is very sad and sweet and powerful. I know sweet seems like the wrong word for a movie about the brutality of a fascist regime, but the face of the actor who played the Stasi agent... it is the final shot where years later he is buying a book by the writer that is dedicated to him, and he realizes that all his risks, and the consequences he suffered, were recognized and helped. In that last shot, his face looks... innocent. That's why it was "sweet", there was some consolation.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Live Nude Girls Unite

Last night I went to a friend's house to watch this excellent documentary (Live Nude Girls Unite) about a group of feminist strippers who tried, and succeeded, to unionize. The person making the documentary was/is a stripper at the club, Lusty Ladies in San Francisco, and is also a stand-up comic. She had a terrifically humorous and ironic perspective on the struggle, at the same time that she took it seriously. There were many interesting themes, about labor, the body, sexism and prostitution, as well as mother-daughter conflicts. I'm going to use this in my winter intercession class instead of a heavy-handed, salacious, and hypocritical Frontline piece called American Porn.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Book of Beginnings and Endings

I just finished this lovely, uncharacterizable book by Jenny Boully. The Book of Beginnings and Endings is a series of, for lack of better words, prose poems. Each page is the beginning of a piece of writing, followed by an ending. And while each "essay" is very different, there is a beguiling unity to the voice. Something happens as you come to the end of each beginning, a sense of loss because what you are starting is slipping through your fingers, and when you turn to the ending, you don't know where you've gone. It is very beautiful, reminding me of Italo Calvino, Rikki Ducornet, and Ben Marcus

"My body wasn't taken with me, the soul being a very spacious thing. Our dreams were correct: we would come to, over time, discover independent yet certain truths.

Discovery number one: it is lonely."

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Getting bored

I just watched The Client, a thriller with Susan Sarandon, Tommy Lee Jones, and some kid. The kid accidentally learns some mob secrets, and the DA's office and the mob are after him. It was sort of predictable, sort of enjoyable. Tommy Lee Jones was great.

I'm getting bored with writing about movies I saw. I really like the idea of keeping a record, but recording something like this just seems pointless...

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Sweeney Todd

Am I the only person that doesn't like Johnny Depp? I think his acting is so two-dimensional and cartoonish. So little depth, so little subtlety. I'm always underwhelmed by him. And I think I'm kind of over Tim Burton.

All this to say, I didn't like Sweeney Todd at all. The leads' had terrible voices and the music was god-awful dull. The cool story was just butchered (ha ha) -- I mean, I was so, so bored. And I love Victorian stuff, and I love Helena Bonham Carter, and I love gore and cannibalism and revenge. And yet I was bored from the very beginning through to the end. I wish they had just made it a straight dramatic movie, without the singing. And I wish someone other than Tim Burton directed it. His heavy hand was in every scene, every shot, never for a moment letting you forget who directed it...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Shame and the Social Bond

I just read an article by Thomas Scheff, "Shame and the Social Bond" in the March, 2000 Sociological Theory. It discusses the ways that shame has not been adequately conceptualized in sociological theory, and looks at those theorists whose work at least touches the subject. He discusses a psychoanalyst, Helen Lewis whose work points to shame as the emotion experienced when there is a threat to the social bond, and he argues that shame is THE social emotion. He also links it to group conflict, violence and the effects of class oppression.


What a perfect way to spend a rainy Sunday. I saw Tootsie as a kid (more or less) and loved it at the time. I was pretty sure it wouldn't hold up, that it would be too dated. But, I really enjoyed it. Fun dialogue, Pollack-directed, slightly interesting stuff on gender, etc. There was something sweetly naive about it, the nervousness around homosexuality and feminism. That was dated, I suppose, but it just made me feel nostalgic for the pre-post days. You know, when irony wasn't always on some level self-referential.

Dustin Hoffman was exactly Dustin Hoffman, doing everything that he does that makes him who he is and makes him so likable. Jessica Lang was charming. Teri Garr and Bill Murray were hilarious in supporting roles. Ah, 1985 was so long ago! 22 years. It's astonishing.

Sense and Sensibility

This movie was perfect. I watched it on Netflix Watch Instantly and it was completely engrossing and lovely and smart.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Twilight of the Books

Caleb Cairn's piece in The New Yorker on the decline of reading makes for good reading, ha ha. He discusses not only evidence that Americans are reading less and less each decade, but also the history of reading from early civilization through the Greeks. A lot of the piece explores the different cognitive demands of an oral culture verses a literate one. The "illiterates" or orals, think metaphorically and, in a way, concretely, embedding ideas into actual situations and anecdotes. Literate brains are better at abstract thoughts and categorizing things, etc.

Of course, television and video games are identified as a big component in the declines of reading. There is a firm correlation between television watching, reading, and academic performance. Etcetera. This piece made proud to be someone who reads so much, and I look forward to my twilight years where I will be someone with that "arcane hobby" of reading actual books.

Cairn quoted Proust's description of reading as "that fruitful miracle of communication in the midst of solitude", which resonated with me quite a bit, being alone but much less alone with a book. Being in yourself, but also in communion with another mind, another voice.

Readers also do more than non-readers. We participate in sports, go to live entertainment events and museums and vote more than our non-reading brethren. Readers rock!

Hugh Pool

I saw this guitar player at Rodeo Bar last night and he was awesome. I don't know how to write about music, so I won't. But it was very intense. I got this picture off the net, it isn't from last night...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

More Simon

Ah, I just read another Simon Pettet book, Selected Poems. Wonderful. What else is there to say?


Your sweetness and generosity
Both capture and astonish me
I am too drunk now
ever to let go

The Bicycle Thief

The Bicycle Thief was so sad! I was expecting a bittersweet Truffaut type thing. I don't know why I thought that. But this was brutal. It was about an extremely poor man in Rome whose bicycle gets stolen. This bicycle was crucial to his employment and his family will be destitute without it. He and his little son, a really sweet kid, go all over Rome trying to track it down. You got to see all these different glimpses of Italian life during the depression (I think). But it was just too heartbreaking. They got more and more desperate and finally the man tries to steal a bicycle and ends up being mortified in front of his son. Like I said, brutal.

The quality of the DVD wasn't so hot. And for some reason there were all these chunks of dialogue they didn't bother to translate.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Truman Show

I loved The Truman Show. I loved it when it first came out in '98 and I loved it the second time around. It was so ahead of it's time. It was made before reality TV existed (maybe The Real World had started, I don't know). It worked on several different levels. It's an ironic social commentary on consumerism and the dangers of TV watching. It has a strong existential theme, about finding yourself (uhg) and going past your boundaries and questioning your existence. It works as a light-hearted comedy. And there was a real sweet sentimentality to it. I got choked up both times when Truman finally hits the fourth wall and weeps.

I really enjoy high concept pieces like Groundhog Day and the Spotless Mind thing. I like suspending my disbelief for these things, and I like the way I am mentally engaged in the concept. I like watching how they take the concept and work it out to it's end.

This was the perfect movie to watch while making my imperfect Oreo balls.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Incredibles

Incredibly, I loved this movie! I got it because it is made by the guy that did Ratatouille, and there was something sophisticated (for lack of a better word) about his sensibility that I thought I'd try this, in spite of how it looks.
Again, there was something different about the story, something less cloying and pandering than other animated Disney things are, or at least than I assume they are.
This is about a family of incredible people -- superheroes- who are forced to endure an ordinary existence in a world where "they keep finding new ways to reward mediocrity". The moral of the story might even be, don't be afraid to show off.
The reason they have to hide themselves is that all superheroes have gone into witness protection programs because there have been too many lawsuits against them. But, the father gets lured away from his stifling job as an insurance adjuster by a mysterious woman who turns out to be working for an evil genius. Someone who's brilliance is in inventing ways to surpass the powers of "natural" superheroes, and someone who Mr. Incredible thwarted when he was child. Anyway, plot synopsis not necessary, I realize.
The animation was awesome, it was really exciting, although I hate the idealized super-thin representations of the female body.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


Boy do I feel stupid. I watched The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring over the last few days. It was so tedious and long (3 hours!), I don't know why I bothered. I never cared what happened to anyone. I was never for a second worried about what would happen to "Frodo" or whatever his name is.

The special effects were really spectacular, and I can see why people like to see that kind of thing on "the big screen" -- but aside from a few breathtaking moments, this was just one long-winded piece of self-important childishness. Lordy, lordy, lordy.

I never cared much for the saving-the-world-from-unleashed-evil genre. Evil in the abstract is pretty meaningless to me. Not something I trouble myself over.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

28 Weeks Later

I'm really kind of freaked out right now. I don't know why I had 28 Weeks Later in my queue (I know I say that a lot) and I barely remember the first one. Well, this was very scary. It was, I thought, very well filmed. It wasn't like a typical horror film (unless they've changed a lot recently, which is entirely possible). I'm not exactly sure what I mean by that. There seemed something artistic to a lot of the shots. The sudden jolts of silence, and the noise; the slow motion, then regular time. The subdued palette. Almost beautiful, actually. And then there was this whole scary surveillance motif. It was mainly military surveillance, that green graphic thing. But there was an other sense to it to, a feeling of quiet paranoia. This eerie feeling of being watched and stalked, recorded and controlled. Marked. The subdued, calm yet tense sense of order and then the frenzied, palsied buzzing of the infected and the crazed noisy terror of the chased. I was uncomfortable, frightened, and on edge through the entire movie.

The ending was REALLY good. I was expecting all the leads to be saved, but that wasn't the case.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Sedaris & Gladwell

I came home exhausted after a long draining day at work and curled up on the couch with the newest New Yorker (even though I haven't cracked last week's yet). I read a wonderful, funny, touching piece by David Sedaris on flying business class next to a sobbing Polish man. I know it is so... so... pedestrian to like David Sedaris, but I am not going to apologize. I think his prose his so smooth and witty; his essays are extremely well structured. I don't know what's not to like.

Then I read a review by Malcolm Gladwell, another favorite of mine, about a book on the race & IQ thing. I know that this has been in the news again recently, but can't we just table this ludicrous issue already? It was a good article, of course, but it is just so depressing that there are still people out there trying to prove that blacks are inferior.

The Museum at FIT

I saw three exhibitions this morning at the Museum at FIT.

Ethereal Elegance included beautiful acrylic on paper fashion paintings by Steven Stipelmen. These had a lovely, impressionist feel to them and some of them reminded me of Debuffy and Chagall.

Exoticism showcased clothing from all over the world that has inspired Western designers. The textiles and ornamentation were intense. Heavy fabrics weighted with beads and embroidery. A really cool pair of "granny boots" that were knee high and made of fabric that looked like old fashioned curtains.

Chic Chicago displayed "Couture treasures from the Chicago History Museum". Basically a ton of gorgeous, elegant clothes from all different eras. This was kind of my favorite.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Ma Vie En Rose

I put this on for something to watch while preparing and eating my Lean Cuisine after a run. I meant to just watch the beginning and get to work, as I had seen it when it first came out. But I got so absorbed in it, I couldn't turn it off. It's about a seven year old boy who wants to be a girl and how his family deals with their own homophobia (they never, ever call it that) and the neighborhood's ostracizing. It was very intense, the vehemence with which the community refused to accept him or his family. The boy's internal world was represented by these ultra-vivid, over-the-top scenes of a Barbie-type doll and a Barbie-type world. My favorite character was the mother. She was very sweet with her son, but turned on him under the stress in a terrible way. She managed to be gracious and in-your-face at the same time with the neighbors. I just thought she was very well-rounded.

The Consolations of Philosophy

I have slowly been reading Alain de Botton's The Consolations of Philosophy for at least a month and finally finished it. What a wonderful book! Each chapter explores a specific philosopher, looking at the life lessons one can extract from their work. So, it isn't an intellectual theoretical treatment of the philosophers; it's a kind of emotional personal reading of them -- which is how I tend to read philosophy anyway.

He covers Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, Montaigne, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. Each chapter has a title like, "The Consolation for Inadequacy" (Montaigne) and includes a lot of information on the philosophers' life, on how they lived, as well as copious quotes and even pictures, sometimes oddly chosen.

My favorite sections were the ones on Montaigne and Schopenhauer -- both whom I personally related to. Neither whom I've read. I can't wait to go out and read Montaigne's Essays, although that will probably have to wait until after January. Surprisingly, I am most familiar with Nietzsche and was least engaged with that chapter ("The Consolation for Difficulties")

Some Schopenhauer quotes:

"We can regard our life as a uselessly disturbing episode in the blissful repose of nothingness"

"There is only one inborn error, and that is the notion that we exist in order to be happy... So long as we persist in this inborn error... the world seems to us full of contradictions. For at every step, in great things and small, we are bound to experience that the world and life are certainly not arranged for the purpose of maintaining a happy existence... hence the countenances of almost all elderly persons wear the expression of what is called disappointment."

I have never forgotten my Freshman Seminar professor exclaiming one day, for no reason I could discern, "Oh, poor Schopenhauer!"

Sunday, December 9, 2007

A River Runs Through It

I'm not sure why this movie was in my queue, but it was. I just finished watching it. Although Robert Redford directed and narrated it, and Brad Pitt was one of the stars, I bet reviewers said that Montana was the real star of the movie. It was very Redford-y in that sense, showing a deep, somewhat self-indulgent love of the vast Western states. It was slow and sleepy, took place during a much slower time (the 20s) and was rather predictable. But at the same time it was gorgeous and sweet. There was barely any hint of a plot, like they didn't want plot or narrative arch to intrude too much. And the movie really was narrated (by Redford). Anyhoo...

It was made in 1992 and I can't believe that was 15 years ago. That makes me feel old. Brad Pitt looked like a baby practically.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

More Winnowed Fragments

What a wonderful way to spend the early afternoon! I just read Simon Pettet's More Winnowed Fragments. It is lovely and inspired. Truly inspired. I love this slender volume.

An excerpt:

Freed from the drive-in prison of single-mindedness
He turns effortlessly to the highway drama
Of the heart's debate with the so-called "verifiable" world...

Thursday, December 6, 2007


I did not expect to like this at all. The newer animated Disney things have not appealed to me. They seem cloying, overly-clever and maybe too cinematic. The computerized visual style seems off-putting and ugly to me.

But, I am pleased to say that I was very pleasantly surprised by Ratatouille -- the story of a rat who wants more out of life, more out of food in particular. He loves food, as a gourmet and gourmand. I don't feel like detailing the plot, but I didn't feel like it was predictable at all. I was genuinely engaged. I thought it was terrific and bet it will inspire a lot of children to become bourgeois foodies in the best and worst sense of the term.

One thing I really liked: it was not too cute. At certain points when they showed swarms of rats I was appalled and chilled. I liked that they didn't cutify ratness to the point of unrecognizability (a la Mickey Mouse).

Card and Pettet at the Poetry Project

I heard Macgreggor Card and Simon Pettet read at the Poetry Project last night (I know I just spelled Card's name wrong). They were both terrific. Both read with the wonderful, unique-to-themselves quality that makes hearing poetry worthwhile. Rather than tedious and depressing. Card was so interesting and charismatic; I'm going to keep an eye out for his work.

Simon Pettet was fabulous as well. His work reminds be of Brenda Coultas' in one particular way: both poets give me the impression that each word comes at great cost; is written through something; chosen with difficult deliberation. Simon read a number of his poems twice, which created a weird, haunting effect and allowed you to really hear them. Often when I am at readings, words wash over me, a few sticking here and there, a few lingering. But Simon's technique let me hold his poems in a way I never had before.

I bought both his books: More Winnowed Fragments and Selected Poems

Mapping the Social Landscape; Readings in Sociology; Constructions of Deviance

I've been reading a bunch of selections from three readers that I will be drawing from in my Winter Intercession class. So far I've read a number of interactionist essays on the production of masculinity and femininity; tattoos; and the sex industry. Good stuff. I just thought I'd mention it in case my vast reading public was under the impression that I've been slacking off.

Museum shops and nouveau butchery

This week I read two New Yorker pieces during my subway ride: "Red, White, and Bleu" by Bil Buford -- a review of three books flamboyantly and viscerally (pun intended) celebrating meat; and "Art and Commerce" by Patricia Marx, ironically and bemusedly celebrating the phenomenon of museum gift shops.
The museum piece was fun and light-hearted. It both rejoinced in and mocked the uneasy but perhaps unavoidable merger of art and consumerism. It reviewed many of the large number of museum shops in the city, and included a range descriptions of interesting pieces in a range of prices (from a limited-edition facsimile of the Book of Hours: $5,300 to a vitrine holding "clever trompe-l'oeil adhesive tape that is made to look like a rococo gold frame" for $15). The whole piece just made me want to go out and spend, spend, spend. And it made me wish I had a super nice apartment to hold all these museum gifts.
The reviews of the butchery, meat, cooking books was a bit less gentile. It featured these three intense meat promoters and their ideology, which I am sympathetic too. But it also included descriptions of slaughter as well as a critique of the way our lives distance us from the reality of our predatory and carnivorous natures.
"Why is it considered entertainment when a predator kills another animal in a wild-life film... 'whereas the final moments of human predation of our farmed livestock are considered too disturbing and shameful to be made available even for information'... If you fear the sight of a carcass, you shouldn't be eating from it."

Sunday, December 2, 2007


I couldn't finish Scarface last night. I thought the accents were atrocious. Apparently they couldn't find one Cuban actor. It is very violent and I could tell where it was going. Michele Pfiefer, who I like a lot, was terrible. Her acting was stiff and her voice robotic. She's come a long way.

Saturday, December 1, 2007


I LOVE this movie. It is a beautiful, charming, literary fairy tale. I love the rich colors. I love the narration that connects everything internal into a big mysterious scheme. I love Amelie's idiosyncratic mind and her imaginative loneliness and generous shyness. I love all the secondary and tertiary characters. I love the photo booth, I love Montemarte, I love the Polaroids of the gnome all over the world, I love Amelie's apartment, I love when Amelie is so mortified and sad that she turns to water. I love all the visual effects.

It is the perfect holiday movie. Et il est en francaise!